I tell myself it’s stupid and I can’t help but feel it anyway. A small flame nearly snuffed by the cynicism of our modern world, flickering, but there all the same: hope. Hurt. Bitter-sweet goodbye. An ending. The year is over and I know nothing really changes with the rising of the sun tomorrow. But if something had to end, then surely something else must begin– and that is hopeful, isn’t it?
I feed my tiny flame. I tell myself, this is our chance. I tell myself, I can change. I tell myself, this time will be different. The flame roars to life, a veritable forest fire where only a spark stood before. The sun rises and echoes my flame in its brilliance. I am bursting at the seams. Last year is over. Last year is over! I get to leave it all behind. I get to leave behind all of the small parts of me I’d begun to hate: the bitter parts, the angry parts, the anguished parts. I get to rewrite. Looking back on last year, it felt like I’d accomplished nothing. My negative self-talk had me convinced that just because I felt bitter, my life was, indeed, meaningless. Then, I looked at the photos.
Oh my God. I did so much. I illustrated and published my mother's children’s book last year. I renovated my house. I renovated a school building. I adopted two gorgeous flemish giant rabbits. I taught my 5-year-old to read. I planted a garden. I baked cakes. I rode horses on the beach. I went on a vacation. I celebrated 10 years of marriage. I climbed mountains. I lived outrageously hard. I loved outrageously hard.
So, if last year wasn’t the sad waste I’d thought, what magnificent miracles might happen this year? This year I plan only one thing: to be me– to be completely, perfectly myself in all of my bizarre, hopeful, forgiving to a fault, glory.
This year I will become, because this year…
I am willing.
Announcing The Prose Press
Over the past 12 months, members of our community have expressed their desire to publish a book but lack of traction with agents or publishers. Our mission is to see members of our community succeed and fulfill their dreams of becoming published authors.
Enter, The Prose Press:
In collaboration with one of the fastest-growing educational companies, we started The Prose Press to give up-and-coming authors the platform to successfully write and publish their work.
Over the next few months, we will be inviting aspiring authors to submit their work and start their publishing journey with The Prose Press and share key pieces of their journey with you – their learnings, conversations, milestones, and excerpts.
If you are interested in turning your working manuscript into a real book, reach out to us.
Thank you to our supporters and community members for making this possible.
Happy 700th Prose Post to Me . . .
Don’t know where the number 700 stands in the scheme of things. Not really. Compared to infinity, it’s not much. Compared to one, it’s a bunch.
Why bring this up? Because when I finished my most recent Prose write-up (Messin’ With Time) I looked up and saw the number 699.
“Wow,” I thought. “Next up is 700.”
Seven-hundred of anything has gotta be a milestone of some sort.
Anyway, just want to thank y’all for readin’ my ramblings over the years: “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly.”
Until next time, write on, my Brothers & Sisters.
Alone with darkness.
These dark clouds won’t leave me be
I am standing all alone in my own battlefield
My only armour is my mind
The same mind that is the traitor
Show me how I can defeat myself
Without losing the best part of me
These dark clouds won’t leave me be
The darkness within is swallowing me
I know I can’t take too much more
It’s all starting to cause me to change
I know these changes are not appealing
These dark clouds won’t leave me be
I am drowning in my own mind
I can feel my happiness leaving me
I know I am alone
Alone with the presence of darkness.
A coin where it’s due
My worldview has been shaped by many stories, but only The Witcher series, by Andrej Sapkowski, has left an indelible mark in my mind. That mark is as strong now as the day I first read the books. I shouldn’t have enjoyed the story. Its hero is eternally reluctant, every supporting character is flawed in a way that makes them hard to love, and the setting is a grisly mishmash of environmental and political dangers. Geralt, the hero, clings to his ingrained neutrality until Fate forces him into a quest to save the child he loves, a child who he did not want in the first place. It’s a dark tale that spends entire volumes dangling glimmers of light that never manifest into a happy ending. The story is at once too realistic and thoroughly drenched in fantasy. The Witcher’s life is no fairytale: he struggles, he loses, he grieves, and his every weakness is exploited. Geralt’s small successes and many failures parallel the adversities that we face in the real world. He dies at the end of the series, with his quest arguably left unfilled. As a lover of happy endings, those final few pages were hard to read.
That tragedy is what impressed me so vividly. Life is not easy, even in a fairytale. Having all the skills you need to survive doesn’t mean that survival is assured. We live in a world with dangers beyond our control, and although those dangers aren’t as grotesque as Geralt’s kikimora, they are just as lethal. Even heroes die eventually. Geralt’s neutrality, which I found so irritating at first, was an uncomfortable mirror of my own tendency to watch and wait, to fly under the radar of those many dangers. Geralt eventually learned to be proactive and face those dangers head on, and, surprisingly, he lost. Sometimes it takes watching the hero lose to realize that failure is better than inaction. He made the choice to soldier through the failures, to accept losing the battle, and then the war, so that he could die with a clear conscience.
I loved The Witcher’s story because it had a message that I needed to hear. It doesn’t promise happy endings or an easy journey, and it doesn’t promise that the supporting cast will always be loveable. It promises that the journey is worthwhile because it is necessary. It promises that even if life is peppered with one tragedy after another, there will still be glimmers of light flickering in the darkness. Happy endings are not guaranteed, but I’ve learned to enjoy those glimmers of hope when they come. I’ve learned to soldier through my failures and disappointments. Like Geralt, even if the ending isn’t what I wanted, I plan to die with a clear conscience.
Planets to Pencils
When I was eighteen I found a copy of The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks on the bedside table of my roommate in the psychiatric ward. I was immediately struck by how easy it would be to read, and perhaps, finish, this novel. My roommate was possibly, and this is not the textbook term, on Mars, and would not notice that this book had gone missing. At the time, I hadn’t read a book in three years, of any kind. My depression made it impossible to penetrate the depths of anything beyond a Facebook post. But The Last Song? Come on. I would have to be on Jupiter to not finish this one.
I didn’t finish the book.
Some time later in college I started reading again. My mental illness, however, wasn’t gone. On a particularly sad winter day in which I was withdrawing heavily from an antipsychotic medication, I decided to miss class. Then I realized it would be my fourth one, and I would be penalized. I raced into the classroom, an hour late.
The class I was destined, perhaps at this point in the semester, to fail, was Contemporary Literature. We were reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith. The class contained six people and the professor. I hadn’t done the reading for that week. I listened, spellbound, as a man in my class discussed this fine work of literature. I couldn’t fathom having these opinions. The man speaking was sophisticated and well-rounded. As my withdrawing brain struggled to read over the pages I’d miss, I decided to really read this book.
I finished the book.
White Teeth for me was about the wit, especially the dialogue. I loved the banter of the characters. I loved how this novel wove the characters together in an intricate way. I went to my local coffee shop and brought a pencil. I underlined every piece of witty dialogue, so that the book was filled with mostly underlines when I was done. Such is good literature: every word has its place, its unity in solidifying the piece as a whole.
Reading changed the dialogue in my head. Inside my brain now is a pencil that jots down notes for later use in my writing. I am constantly mentally underlining what people say to me. There are gaps in time that I can’t remember, when I couldn’t put pencil to paper, either to underline or write my own work. But that changed with White Teeth.
I am now someone who sits writing at my computer every morning and evening. And I am someone who reads a fair amount of literature.
I am neither the young woman in the psychiatric hospital on Mars or Jupiter. And perhaps I will never be as sophisticated as the man who could dissect White Teeth with ease. But I am a reader. It makes me better, and my own brand of sophisticated.
So Let the Haunting Begin
No one ever thinks they’re going to die at 34.
When you’re a kid, you’re so far removed from the prospect of death that you actually spend a lot of your precious time on this Earth wishing you were older, effectively wishing you were closer to dying. But of course, you don’t think about it that way. You’re more interested in getting to do what you want, like eating candy for every meal, not realizing that grown-ups want candy all the time too. It’s just that they’ve learned eating too much of it might end up killing them sooner than they’d like, and usually the desire to live longer wins over Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, even as fucking delicious as they are.
Then when you’re in your teens and early twenties, you spend most of your time thinking you’re invincible, willingly putting yourself into dangerous situations that you look back on and think, “How did I not die?” Like that time on my 21st birthday when I wandered the streets of the East Village drunk and barefoot at 2:00 AM. Somehow, I managed not to contract tetanus or get murdered.
Instead, I got murdered taking a jog in the ’burbs at 4:30 in the afternoon while listening to a Brené Brown podcast. Go figure.
To add insult to injury, being a ghost isn’t nearly as fun as I thought it would be. For starters, the whole reason I’m still stuck on Earth is because I have something I need to do before I can go to the next place. Somehow, I’ve died and still have a job. Can’t I just float on a cloud and chill with my new best ghost friends? (Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson, obviously).
I’m kidding – well, kind of – but dying is terrible enough without the added misery of knowing that another human being is directly responsible for your death. And then there’s the shock of it all too. In the beginning, nobody understands that they’re dead. One minute, I was listening to Brené tell me that vulnerability is the only way to experience true human connection, and the next, I was looking down at my lifeless body. Blood trickling from a deep open wound in my temple and onto the Airpod that was still somehow in my ear, all the while Brené ’s subtle Southern twang continued to buzz away in the speaker.
Life continued on around me as if I’d never been there at all.
And I didn’t remember my final moments until later – the fact that a leggy blonde woman in Lululemon gleefully bashed my head in with a rock – so my first thought was that this was just a terrible dream. I tried my usual tricks to wake myself up – a slap or two in the face, bouts of screaming “this is not real!” – but they did nothing. Then I thought the only rational explanation was that I’d had some sort of mental break. Surely, this surreal moment could be explained by brain trauma, and my out-of-body experience would end just as soon as I came to. It’d be a wild story I’d tell my therapist later.
Only I never did come to. I just lay there, unmoving, my lips slowly turning a chilling shade of blue, until Dan found me himself a few hours later and the paramedics took my body away. I’ll never forget the look on his face as they covered mine with a sheet. And even now, I sometimes can’t help but think how the last words I said to my loving husband and sweet little dog were a lie.
I told them I’d be right back.
I’ve had a year to digest my feelings with the help of the afterlife review process. I can’t give you too many details because you’re supposed to discover this when it’s your own time, so you’ll have to settle for the cliff notes for now.
After you die and you’ve actually realized it, you then move on to an in-between place. This place will be somewhere that instantly soothes you. For me, it was a field full of lavender where the plants rustling in the wind sounded like rolling ocean waves, and the air smelled like all of my favorite memories at once – my trips to Ireland with Dan, summer nights as a teen driving around with my friends and singing at the top of our lungs and Christmas mornings with my family.
They do it so you’re in the best possible frame of mind to watch your whole life played back to you from start to finish. Every kind thing you did, every cruel thing you did and how it all affected the people around you. Sometimes, you just changed their outlook for a few minutes or maybe a day. But other times, you changed the entire trajectory of someone’s life.
Needless to say, it’s some heavy shit.
The hardest part of the afterlife review was when it came to my last day. It was only then that I saw the leggy blonde in detail for the first time and learned more about who she is. When she emerged from the tree line as I rounded the corner, I’d only caught a glimpse of her fake dyed hair and overly tanned limbs in my periphery before she whacked me in the head and it was all over. It happened so fast that it seemed unfair. After the generally good life I’d lived, didn’t I at least deserve a few minutes of dramatic struggle?
Eventually, I learned her name was Kristen, and that she’d known my husband back in high school. (And when I say known, I mean she had an aching, unrequited love for him.) I watched on heavenly replay as she stalked Dan and me for months before that day, learning our schedules down to the minute, until she finally made her move. She killed me with a smile on her face, and worst of all, I now had to look on while she tried to worm her way back into his life – from compassionate old friend to new lover.
I have to laugh that it only took me dying to solve the mystery of my own murder.
Dan is too blinded by his loneliness and grief to see Kristen for who she really is, and the local police are either too lazy or too dumb to recognize a murder from a freak accident. They said I simply lost my footing due to some erosion on the trail and hit my head in just the right spot to kill me instantly while I tumbled toward the riverbank below. I don’t know. Maybe they just didn’t want the death of a young-ish white lady to go unexplained for too long. The media always loves a good dead white woman story, everyone else be damned.
Despite all this, I won’t call my killer a monster because I’ve already learned in this year how to forgive her. I’ve seen her struggle through life, betrayed by the people she trusted the most, and how she slowly hardened into the type of person she is today. But while I can forgive her, that doesn’t mean I will excuse her, nor will I condemn my husband and dog to a life with a woman who could not be more undeserving of their love. This would be the last thing I’d do on Earth. And even if it was a hard job, particularly with the promise of unending bliss looming so close on my horizon, I knew I needed to do it. And I wanted to do it, as my final gift to the loves of my life.
So, let the haunting begin.
I sit in the living room of the home I once shared with Dan. It’s a lazy Sunday morning and Nessie snores loudly on the couch as all good French Bulldogs do, while he sips a cup of coffee and scrolls through Reddit on his phone, wearing the soft joggers I gave him for Christmas last year. I wonder if he feels my presence beside him. It’s torture not being able to touch, but I learned if I focus my energy, I can give him a chill. I wish I could do something that would make him feel warm, but I’m glad to be somehow tangible all the same. I continue to hope that when the time comes, I’ll be able to make him feel everything he needs to.
He shivers and looks to his side briefly. “I’m right here,” I say. But he just cracks his neck and looks through me, wistfully staring out the window. Just then, his phone buzzes, and he reads a text from her.
“I’m downtown at Night Kitchen Bakery. You in the mood for some sticky buns? ;-)”
I grumble at that fucking suggestive winky-face emoji. I find her flirting pathetic. And yes, I know I’m supposed to be enlightened now, but just because I’m capable of greater empathy as a ghost doesn’t mean I have to like the woman. After all, she did murder me.
He pauses before answering. He’s already eaten his usual morning banana, but a sticky bun sounds much more appetizing. And she’s been okay, hasn’t she? Sure, she was a little overbearing at first, what with the flowers and the teddy bears and endless casseroles after the funeral, but it was better to care too much than not at all, right? Plus, she’d made him laugh now and again, more so at the absurdity of her try-hard jokes than the jokes actually being funny, but he can’t remember the last time someone made him laugh besides me. So, he texts her back.
“Sure. I’m always up for some stickity-bickity buns.”
I shake my head and laugh, remembering what a loveable weirdo he was and is. It’s a wonder why she’s still into him when he sends texts like that.
Fifteen minutes later, her Jeep pulls down my driveway. I’m floating outside the driver’s side window and watch as she diligently checks her makeup. She’s trying to give the appearance of being natural – donning head-to-toe “athleisure” wear – but I know the amount of time she spends on that face. I’ve watched her in my downstairs bathroom before. Each time, dumping her purse of sprays and lotions and stains into the sink and carefully reapplying each one before returning to Dan and saying something like, “I look like I just rolled out of bed.” Always fishing for compliments and desperately trying to cover the cracks in the mask she wears each day.
She knocks on the back door, and Nessie eagerly runs to greet her. Nessie’s never met a human she hasn’t liked, but just this once, I wish she had more discerning taste. The truth is, she’d happily lick Hitler’s hand if he extended it, so I try not to be too offended.
Next is Dan. She gives him a hug and they exchange a brief kiss. I used to look away in these moments, but now I focus all my energy toward her lips. I try to make them as cold and dry as possible, and like to think that’s why their kisses never seem to last very long.
Today I focus extra hard. Dan jumps back, clutching his bottom lip.
“You shocked me!” he says, and they chuckle. I chuckle too, because I know that today’s the day.
I’ve been steadily working on him for months now, using all my energy to nudge him back toward the trail. He hasn’t stepped foot on it since I died, so I’ve been hoping for a two-for-one deal. I’ll remind him how much he loved running – how it made him feel boundless, like anything was possible – and also help him see the truth of what she’d done, so that he can be free to live the life I wanted for him; the one that he deserved.
I did this in subtle ways, of course, as my being a ghost had been frustratingly limiting for most of my time back among the living. I spent one whole day just staring at his running shoe in the closet until it finally fell and clunked against the door, pushing it slightly open. The noise scared him half-to-death – he always hated loud sounds – but when he saw the shoe lying there, he couldn’t help but remember all the times we’d run together. In different states and in different seasons, sometimes struggling and other times gliding with ease, but always together. And that day, he put his shoes on for the first time since I’d gone. He made it down the driveway before he collapsed to the ground and sobbed loudly for the whole neighborhood to hear. It hurt so much to see him like that, but I knew this was progress and that we had to keep going.
Later, I’d discovered that if I “held” his hand or laid my head against his shoulder, I could influence him in certain ways – like the time I sat beside him in the car. I rested my hand atop his while it gripped the stick shift and within seconds, he made a sudden turn, heading in the direction of the running trail. Soon, he arrived at the trailhead without knowing how – like a kind of highway hypnosis – but parked and sat at the entrance for a while, letting memories of me wash over him like a gentle tide. He cried tears of sadness and joy that day. That night, he was untroubled and slept soundly.
I’d set the stage with these small, fleeting moments, and now it was time to nudge Kristen in the right direction too. This would be more challenging because her walls were hard and high, but I was ready for the task. I’d been taking inventory of all the times she was at her most vulnerable, when her true self shined through the veneer and you caught a glimpse at all the rage she kept bottled inside.
Recently, there was a night that I found her in my house, yet again, when Dan ventured to the kitchen to make them drinks. She asked him for a Cosmo, which, in my opinion, should have been glaring evidence of her depravity, but Dan didn’t seem to mind. As she sat alone, smoothing her hair and checking her teeth in her iPhone, Nessie jumped on her lap and started vigorously licking her face (as she is wont to do) – making quick work of destroying her meticulous makeup. Almost immediately, she violently pushed Nessie off her as if she had bitten her nose, and my poor dog landed on her back upon the hardwood floor. Luckily, I’d dived to catch her out of instinct, despite my lack of a body, and somehow my energy created an imperceptible pillow of air that softened her fall. She was bruised, but not badly hurt, and retreated to her crate.
In that moment, I broke open. I turned to Kristen and screamed so loudly in her face that her nose began to bleed. I surprised myself, and naturally, she was mortified. She left early without a goodbye, and Dan poured her Cosmo down the drain as I danced in circles around the living room.
Today, however, she’d returned with a mission. She decided that she would not leave until Dan had deemed their relationship “official.” And here I thought I would have to push them both in the direction of the trail, but I underestimated her nerve. She willingly broached the subject on her own. Placing her hand on his knee, she said, “Dan, I think it’s time we take a jog.”
He knew her meaning and wavered. In his mind, it seemed both a betrayal to me and something that he’d been desperately longing for. Unsure if he wanted to go there to remember me, to wallow or just to feel human again, he decided he had to try. I dealt with brief feelings of jealousy that she was somehow able to convince him to go when I could not, but I quickly realized that I had helped get him to this point. So, when he finally nodded in agreement, I let myself feel proud.
Of course, she was already wearing fancy sneakers to go with the rest of her outfit – I wondered how many pairs of leggings this woman owned – so she sat back anxiously, watching as Dan laced up his. He set the home security alarm and before closing the back door and turned to Nessie. “I’ll be right back, sweet girl,” he told her, and my see-through heart skipped a beat.
As they made their way down the street, they found themselves unable to fall into a rhythm. Dan and I could easily match our steps once we got going, but Kristen seemed to clomp along unevenly, no match for Dan’s skilled stride.
“Do you want me to ease up?” he called, as she fell slightly behind.
“No, I’m fine! Just warming up.” She panted, pushing herself to match his pace.
As they entered the trail, they were cloaked beneath the shade of its tall, old oak trees. It was this darkness that helped provide her cover that day one year ago, and within a few short minutes, she would approach the bend where it happened once more. That’s when she spoke up.
“I was thinking, maybe we could…”
But Dan stopped before she could finish. He came to a halt in the exact spot where it happened, and I didn’t need to do a thing.
In fact, Kristen kept running a few steps more before realizing that he wasn’t by her side. “Everything okay?” she called back, while taking in her surroundings. She couldn’t believe she’d almost run right past it. And now, here she stood, with him. The adrenaline pulsed through her veins and she couldn’t help but grin at the realization.
At first, Dan didn’t even look at her face. He just found himself so incensed by the question.
“Of course, I’m not okay! What kind of fucking question is that?!” he seethed.
But eventually, he took a deep breath and looked up. He was about to apologize because he knew – or rather he thought – that my death was not her fault. He wanted to tell her he was lashing out because he wasn’t sure if he was ready for this. But then he saw her smiling.
“What are you so happy about?” He asked, his patience bubbling over.
She stumbled over her words. “Oh, I, I’m just…I’m just remembering that silly red bandana Kate used to wear on her runs. Like she thought she was a cowgirl or something.” She scoffed, snorting in amusement, not noticing Dan’s facial expression change.
“How…how did you know she wore a red bandana?” He asked, stepping toward her.
Immediately, she realized her misstep and threw her hands up in denial.
“Oh, I’m sure I’ve seen it on Facebook or in the pictures in your house or something. I didn’t mean to upset you, honey, let’s just keep moving.”
But Dan stood as still as the trees around them. And I knew then that this was my moment.
I stepped in front of him and grabbed his hands. I looked into his eyes before stepping once more, not next to him, but into him. And for just a moment, my spirit and his body came together. I opened myself to him and watched as he witnessed that day for himself. The day she took my life, in her desperation to have him as her own.
As I poured the knowing into him, he watched in anguish, and I worried about the toll this would take. But I also knew it was the only way for him to be sure of the truth.
It wasn’t much longer before I came spilling out and onto the ground beside his feet. To him, it felt like he’d figured this out on his own, not knowing that what he’d seen were the actual events of that day and not just his imagination putting the puzzle pieces together. I looked up and saw the realization in his eyes, and this time it was he who was filled with rage.
Suddenly, he lunged toward her, but I was quicker. I grabbed him by the wrist, making him hesitate. He wasn’t a violent man, and we both knew it. No matter how much this discovery hurt him.
I whispered in his ear, “I’ll be waiting for you. And I hope I wait a long, long time.”
At this, he gasped and tilted his face toward the sky, as if searching for me among the clouds.
Then he reached into the pocket of his shorts and called 9-1-1.